For a fresh chicken
1. Get up at 5 a.m. Or 5:15. Or hit the snooze until 5:30, which leaves no time for a shower. It's okay not to take a shower. You'll see why in a minute.
2. Drive around looking for coffee. Can you believe it? I couldn't find a single coffee place open at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning. All of the coffee drinkers must be lazy slug-a-beds on Saturday mornings. I wouldn't know, since I'm usually asleep at this hour. Finally I happened upon Cal's Donuts, which doesn't officially open until 7 a.m., but the OPEN sign was lit and the coffee was ready. I got two donuts by mistake-- I meant to say a coffee and a buttermilk donut. My mouth said "Two coffees. No, two donuts. I only need one coffee." Rather than fuddle the old guy any more by changing my mind again, I just paid for the extra donut. Clearly I needed the coffee. Maybe I should have gotten two coffees after all.
3. Drive to the farm and spend the next six hours or so up to your elbows in chicken guts. This is why not to bother with the shower. You're just going to get bloody (and worse) anyway, so why waste your time? A helpful hint: Eat your donut as you drive. Even for the non-squeamish the sight of an upside-down chicken dripping blood into a tub can put you off your tasty donut.
Last week, in a rare moment of kindness, I offered to help my sister butcher her chickens. It's a hard job and no one else in her family will actually gut the chickens. I'm not squeamish and I like my sister, so along with her husband and the oldest kids (I guess they all like her too), I helped butcher chickens this morning. They cut off the heads and feet, and we...er, eviscerated them. "Eviscerated" sounds so much better than "pulled the guts out," don't you think?
It takes a lot of work to get chickens from this:
(Don't worry, even though that's Hattie-the-chicken's photo above, and though I've often threatened to make Ethel-and-dumplings for dinner, my own feathered friends are safe and sound. For now.)
4. Come home with chickens that look a heck of a lot more like something you'd find wrapped in plastic at the grocery store than they did just a few hours ago when they were clucking around, or when you were trimming off the scent gland or chopping off the feet or eviscerating them.
5. Pop a chicken in the pot. Wash it and put it in a large pot, toss your favorite broth fixin's in with the chicken, and turn up the heat. Less than six hours from clucking and squawking to the pot. It doesn't get much fresher than this.
6. Take a quick shower. Don't look in the mirror, and try not to think about what might be on your face. But wash your hair twice just in case. By the time you're done with your shower the pot should be boiling and you're well on the way to Delicious Chicken Soup.
Delicious Chicken Soup
For the broth, you need....
A whole fresh chicken (A grocery store chicken will do if you're sqeamish or don't know a chicken farmer)
Optional: Apples, white wine, peppercorns, whole cloves
Pop a whole chicken in a large pot, including the neck. I cut up the chicken, just so that it will fit, but it's not necessary. Throw in some carrots, a quartered onion or two (peel and all), celery stalks (the ends or those pale center pieces will do just fine), a bay leaf, a couple apples (also quartered) and about half a cup of white wine if you've got some handy. Add a little salt if desired. Put a few whole cloves, whole peppercorns, and a sprinkle of oregano and basil into a tea ball and drop that in too. Add water until everything in the pot is just covered. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce the heat to bring it down to a nice simmer.
After about 30-40 minutes of simmering, remove the chicken from the pot. Leave the neck in and leave the pot simmering on the stove. Let the chicken cool until you can handle it and pull the meat off the bones. (I'm always in a hurry, so I use tongs to pull off the meat while it's still hot.) Chop the cooked meat and save it in the fridge, then toss the bones back in the pot. Let the pot simmer on the stove for another hour or two, until you've got time to put a strainer or sieve on a large bowl and strain the veggies and such out of the broth.
Allow the broth to cool for about 20 minutes, then use a paper towel or a fat skimmer to get the grease off the top. If you don't need the broth right away, cover the bowl of broth and put it in the fridge until tomorrow-- you can easily skim the hardened fat right off the top. If you want clearer reduced chicken broth, strain the broth a few times through several layers of cheesecloth and boil it until it's reduced. I don't bother because the unfancy way looks kind of murky, but it only takes ten minutes to prepare, ten minutes to pull the meat off the bones, and a few miscellaneous minutes to strain it, then I put the broth in the fridge and clean up. It takes some cooking time, but for most of that time the broth is just simmering away while I do laundry or chat on the phone or watch mindless television.
(If the broth recipe seems familiar, it's because it's the one I use when I make Delicious Chicken Pie.)
From broth to soup....You need:
Chicken broth (Homemade or ~gasp!~ from the store)
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1-2 onions, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Noodles (uncooked) or cooked rice
Diced cooked chicken
Parsley, chopped (optional)
Place your broth in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the carrots, potatoes, celery and bay leaf. (You may have to adjust the amounts of vegetables according to the amount of chicken broth you're using.) Simmer until the veggies are tender, about 15 minutes. If you're using noodles, bring it to a boil, add the noodles and cook until tender. Add the chopped chicken and simmer until the chicken is heated through. If you're using rice (we usually have leftover rice in the fridge), add the rice and chicken at the same time and simmer until heated. Add the parsley if you like parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a green salad and homemade buttermilk biscuits.